New Zealand marked a watershed moment Wednesday, when 77 of 121 members of its Parliament voted in favor of amending the 1955 Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry — making it the 13th nation to legalize gay marriage and the first nation in the Asia-Pacific region.
But what happened next was just as notable. Onlookers in the public gallery and some lawmakers celebrated the result by breaking into the Maori love song “Pokarekare Ana,” the Associated Press reports. New Zealand has allowed civil unions since 2005, but the new law, planned to go into effect in August, will enable same-sex couples to adopt children and allow their marriages to be recognized in other countries.
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Gay rights advocates are hoping New Zealand’s landmark decision could pressure other countries in the region to follow suit, including in neighboring Australia — whose Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, opposes same-sex marriage. However, some Australian states are considering gay rights legislation. More recently, a rainbow crosswalk temporarily installed on Oxford Street to celebrate Sydney’s gay and lesbian Mardi Gras festival sparked debate when New South Wales state officials ordered its removal due to safety hazards. Clover Moore, Sydney’s lord mayor, supported the protest to keep it as a symbol of the city’s tolerance while protestors produced a petition with 1,000 signatures to keep the painted walkway.
The same-sex marriage debate has increasingly become a political point of contention worldwide. Last week the French Senate and lawmakers in Uruguay also voted in favor of a gay marriage bill. New Zealand will soon join Spain, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Norway, Iceland, Argentina Sweden, Denmark and Portugal in recognizing same-sex marriage.